New Delhi - For those wanting to wager on which India bowler will be the star turn
in the approaching series against South Africa, a bet on Ravichandran
Ashwin would be well advised.
The 29-year-old off-spinner has emerged as his team's strike bowler in recent series and is particularly effective on home pitches.
With leg-spinner Amit Mishra for support in Tests and several other slow bowling options, including part-timers, in limited overs games, Ashwin is expected to shine across the formats with his variety.
Ashwin has bagged 145 wickets in 28 Tests, 139 in 99 one-day internationals and 25 in 26 T20 internationals.
"He has been a champion bowler for us," Test captain Virat Kohli said after Ashwin bagged 21 wickets and helped India register its first test series win in Sri Lanka in 23 years. "He has been taking wickets for us everywhere. He is an asset for any team, a spinner of that quality and mindset is a weapon that any captain would love to have in his team."
Ashwin's rise has been phenomenal and he has firmly placed himself at the helm of the spin attack post the Anil Kumble-Harbhajan Singh era.
He came into the spotlight with his performances in domestic T20 games and was picked for limited overs games early on.
But he also responded to the demands of Test cricket instantly as he bagged nine wickets in his debut Test against the West Indies at New Delhi in 2011.
He capitalized on his chances and was the fastest ever to 100 wickets in 18 Tests.
Ashwin did not find much success on tours of South Africa and England but grabbed 12 wickets in three tests in Australia last season as he committed to a more aggressive line around off stump, starting to use the 'carom ball' and other variations more judiciously.
Former India off-spinner Erapalli Prasanna feels Ashwin has thrived since adopting the off-stump line.
"He has been making the batsmen play and is bowling on one side of the pitch," Prasanna told the NDTV news channel. "He used to bowl on either side of the wicket because he believed in many variations. He did not understand that variation is in the deception."
Ashwin, who is also comfortable bowling with the new ball, has focused on mastering test cricket's peculiar challenges.
"The last 10-12 months I've been more focused on Test cricket. I came to terms with the fact that Tests are no child's play. I wanted to be serious about every aspect of the game and be as focused as possible," he said.
India team director Ravi Shastri said Ashwin has "the brain of an astronaut."
"He has combined that intelligence with calmness and patience now. That bodes well for us because now the astronaut's mind is helping team India take flight," Shastri said.
Against South Africa, Ashwin's biggest challenge will be to switching rapidly between formats as the tour kicks off with a three-game T20 series to be followed by five ODIs and four Tests.
The T20 games are slated for Dharamsala (Oct. 2), Cuttack (Oct. 5) and Kolkata (Oct. 8).
The ODIs will be in Kanpur (Oct. 11), Indore (Oct. 14), Rajkot (Oct. 18), Chennai (Oct. 22) and Mumbai (Oct. 25) while the tests will be played in Mohali (Nov. 5-9), Bangalore (Nov. 14-18), Nagpur (Nov. 25-29), and New Delhi (Dec. 3-7).